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Winter, 2013
Volume 39, Number 4
imageofweek From the Archive
In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
7 August 2013
Carl Hétu

The Church of the Beatitudes, run by Franciscans, was built on the site believed to be where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. (photo: CNEWA)

The first three days of our journey were spent in Israel. We visited the Mount of the Beatitudes and the surroundings of the Lake of Tiberias, referred to in the Bible as the Sea of Galilee; Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus; and the house of St. Peter in Capernaum, which was used for community gatherings by the very first Christians.

It seems so simple and peaceful to build a church, but the political climate of that era was complex and violent, making the process extremely hazardous. The Christians had to be strong, determined and forgiving.

In a similar way, we encountered a brave man who as a child was forced with his family out of his village and became a refugee in the new Israel. Archbishop Elias Chacour is the Melkite Catholic leader for Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee. Our group spent a good two hours with him in Haifa where he explained the difficult life of Arab Palestinian Christians in Israel since its creation in 1948.

Most of the Arabs live in segregated villages where Israeli Jews and Arabs rarely connect. He told us he had to go to court over 35 times as a priest, just trying to construct a parish hall, schools and a gym. “I never understood why the authorities didn’t want us to succeed,” he said.

One of his projects, a school for Israeli children from all backgrounds — Jewish, Muslim and Arab Christian — has seen great success, but it is an exception in this complex place.

We were all very moved by Archbishop Chacour’s presentation. Before we parted ways, he shared copies of his books with us — Blood Brothers and Faith Beyond Despair, in which he describes his life in Israel and how peace is possible. A few days later, one of my fellow pilgrims, Corina, told me that she couldn’t put the book down. “It’s too good,” she said, “and so informative. I never knew about Arab Palestinian Christians living in Israel. It’s a must read.”

Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour poses with Velma Harasen, former national president of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada, and Carl Hétu, director of CNEWA Canada. (photo: CNEWA)

Tags: CNEWA Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims Holy Land Christians Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour
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3 July 2013
Carl Hétu

Our pilgrims gather at the Jordan River. (photo: CNEWA)

On 29 June, the C.W.L. and CNEWA pilgrimage group headed to the Jordan River, where according to Scripture John the Baptist baptized Jesus with water “in Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (John 1:28)

Since our pilgrimage took us only to Israel and Palestine, we stayed on the west bank of the river, across from the Jordanian park Pope John Paul II had inaugurated in the year 2000. As with most of the Holy Sites we visited, the Israeli site marking Jesus’ baptism has its own history. Unlike most, it is an Israeli National Park and is not cared for by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land or the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic patriarchates.

The site has been open for only two years. Since the conclusion of the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel took control of the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, the entire border has been a military zone with fences, mines and soldiers.

Thankfully, we were privileged to drive to the site — well below sea level — under a scorching sun without any problems. Father Geoffrey Kerslake led us in prayer as we renewed our baptismal vows, and afterward invited us to take a dip in the river. It was an emotional experience as we then headed for the desert, the same desert where Jesus retreated for 40 days.

Tags: Palestine Holy Land Israel Jordan Pilgrimage/pilgrims
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3 July 2013
Carl Hétu

Father Geoffrey Kerslake from the Ottawa diocese concelebrates Mass with Father Elias Odeh, parish priest in Reineh. (photo: CNEWA)

On our journey to the Holy Land, we wanted to meet the “living stones,” the Christians ministering to people in this land. On Sunday, 23 June, we went to Mass in the Latin parish of Reineh, a small village beside Nazareth in Israel. That turned out to be a special day for several reasons. First, it was Pentecost Sunday (since Easter in this part of the world follows the Julian, rather than Gregorian, calendar). Also, the parish priest, Rev. Elias Odeh, was marking the 43rd anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. But it was another detail that may be most memorable: many in our party had a chance for the first time to attend a Roman Catholic Mass celebrated in Arabic.

For many in North America, this may be stunning news. ‘Aren’t Arabs all Muslims?’ some might ask. How is it possible that Arabs are also Catholics? Let’s not forget that Christianity was present in the Holy Land some 600 years before Muhammad, and many Arabs had converted long before. Today, even though they are in small numbers, these Arab Christians are proud of their heritage and their faith.

Rev. Geoffrey Kerslake, who accompanied us on the pilgrimage, concelebrated Mass with Father Odeh. Afterward, our group was invited to join the parishioners for coffee and cake in a warm and friendly setting. We were surprised to see how many spoke English very well!

[Editor’s note: we interviewed Father Odeh as part of our coverage of the Year for Priests. Check out what he had to say here.]

Members of CNEWA and the Catholic Women’s League of Canada take to the pews in a Latin Catholic church in Reineh. (photo: CNEWA)

Tags: CNEWA Holy Land Israel CNEWA Canada Holy Land Christians
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3 June 2013
Carl Hétu

Hayat Shao gives her son Jamil Makhoo, an Iraqi refugee, a hug for the first time in 13 years. (photo: Evan Boudreau/Catholic Register)

What a joy it must have been for Cardinal Thomas Collins to welcome to Toronto the Iraqi Christian family he sponsored!

The story, from the Catholic Register:

Though it took a few hours longer than expected, six members of the Makhoo family — Iraqi refugees sponsored by Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins — finally arrived in Canada on 23 May.

It was an emotional reunion as members of the clan already settled in Canada were on hand to greet the family they hadn’t seen in years.

“I was very happy,” said Hayat Shao, mother to the Makhoo family’s patriarch, Jamil. “It was like I owned the whole world when I saw my son coming through the gate.”

It had been 13 years since the mother and son last embraced before their reunion at Pearson International Airport.

Like any Iraqi refugee story, the Makhoo’s is filled with these kind of heart-wrenching anecdotes amid a tale of suffering, displacement and delays.

Read more at the Register link.

Like so many, I was waiting for this moment, too. Thanks to Cardinal Collins — a director of CNEWA’s governing board in Canada — for his leadership on this issue. Thanks also to Dr. Martin Mark, who directs the Archdiocese of Toronto’s refugees office, and his team for his diligent efforts to bring so many Iraqi refugees to Canada.

This project has been a great collaboration between CNEWA Canada and the Archdiocese of Toronto, helping to raise awareness of the plight of Iraqi Christians. It certainly highlighted our Catholic Church’s positive role and the many volunteers that put their time and resources to make this happen.

To learn how you can help Iraqi Christians, visit this link.

Tags: Refugees Iraq Iraqi Christians Canada Iraqi Refugees
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23 May 2013
Carl Hétu

A man holds an injured child who had just been pulled out from under rubble at a site hit by what activists said was an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria, 30 March. (CNS photo/Abo Oday, Reuters)

On 22 May, the Canadian Council of Churches, whose 24 members include the episcopal conference of Canadian Catholic bishops, released a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the government of Canada to “respond robustly and generously to the pressures and tensions experienced by both displaced peoples and by the host countries in the [Middle East.] that provide refuge.” Signed by Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton and president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Ukrainian Greek Metropolitan Archbishop Lawrence Huculak, O.S.B.M., of Winnipeg, the letter spells out how Canada should “take a lead in the protection of human rights with special attention to the rights of children, women and minority groups; to hold firm to the obligation for all state and non-state actors to respect international law, particularly in situations of armed conflict; and to assist us in our efforts as churches to work with local peacemakers and providers of humanitarian assistance in the region.”

I invite you to read the letter and maybe you too can encourage our Canadian government — indeed all governments — to play a more humanitarian role and play a stronger role to build lasting peace. Be assured that CNEWA, through its offices and church networks in the Middle East, is very much present assisting the best way we can. Visit here to learn how you can help. To read the entire letter, click here.

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25 April 2013
Carl Hétu

Jasmine and sisters in their apartment in Amman, Jordan. (photo: CNEWA)

This past March marked the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. When the dust from the invasion appeared to have settled, an insurgency more powerful than the invasion whipped through Iraq, its turbulence destroying what remained. Anarchy reigned and those powerless to defend themselves were its victims. Everything changed for Iraq’s Christians. Today, fewer than 300,000 Christians remain, but they live in the north after fleeing their homes in Baghdad. This past Easter, many of the faithful attended liturgies in churches protected by armed guards.

But those are the ones who stayed. About 700,000 Christians (or 70 percent of the prewar number of Christians in Iraq) were forced to leave their homeland. Among them was a young Christian woman named Jasmine. Her story reflects the stories of thousands of Christians who are now living in limbo and need a sign of hope.

I met Jasmine last year. She had been living in Jordanian capital of Amman with her mother and two sisters after fleeing Iraq in October of 2011.

Extremists demanded she convert to Islam. They laughed at her for being Christian. They harassed her sisters, who are mentally challenged. Jasmine’s father died five years ago. The family is poor and her mother is sick — but Jasmine eventually saved enough money to move them to safety in Jordan.

Now Jasmine and her family are scraping by in a poor slum. The family dreams of moving one day to North America. As with so many other refugees, she is awaiting resettlement for a new life. But the process has been prolonged and even put on hold due to the war in Syria.

It is a harsh life, but she still has hope, thanks to CNEWA, which provides families such as Jasmine’s with food, shelter, medicine and pastoral care — enabling her family and many others to live in dignity in such tough conditions.

This can only be done with your generous support.

Many more families need help. Your prayers and sacrifices are very much needed.

Click here to learn how you can help.

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18 January 2013
Carl Hétu

Left to right: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, Jesuit Archbishop Terrence T. Prendergast and Msgr. John E. Kozar hosted a reception in Rome to raise the Italian community’s awareness of the needs of the churches and people of the East. (photo: Carl Hétu)

This past Wednesday, in the frescoed reception rooms of the headquarters of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the Holy See’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches joined CNEWA in hosting a reception to introduce to the Italian community the needs of the Eastern churches. The reception capped a flurry of public activities designed to better acquaint Italian Catholics with some of the issues challenging Christian families, especially in the Middle East. As in North America, the Italian media reports on the political and economic dimensions of the Middle East, but few raise the issue of the Christians who have been living there since the time of Christ.

Cardinal Leonardi Sandri, prefect of the Congregation of the Eastern Churches; Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre; Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of CNEWA; and Archbishop Terrence T. Prendergast, S.J., chair and treasurer of CNEWA Canada, welcomed more than 100 prominent Italians, including members of the political community and actor Giorgio Lupano.

“Almost every day, in an area of the world called the Middle East, people face forces far greater than the destruction of a hurricane,” Msgr. Kozar said in an address that referenced the hurricane that devastated parts of New York City and the surrounding regions last autumn. “They face the storms of conflict, hostility, hatred, poverty, injustice and religious and political persecution. At times, there is little hope of survival, let alone the opportunity to rebuild and to live in peace with hope.”

CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, Issam Bishara, reported on the current challenges and work being done for, through and with the Eastern churches in the midst of violent conflicts afflicting the region.

Comboni Missionary Sister Alessandra Fumagalli spoke about the work of her community in southern Jordan, where the sisters run the Italian Hospital in Kerak. “It’s really an emergency,” she said about the large numbers of people needing care from a 40-bed facility.

At his weekly audience the day before the event, the Holy Father thanked CNEWA and its benefactors, a few of whom joined Archbishop Prendergast and Msgr. Kozar in the audience hall, for all the work done on behalf of the church.

You, too, can join in these efforts of CNEWA to affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue and inspire hope. Click here to learn how.

Tags: Syria CNEWA Middle East Christians Jordan Msgr. John E. Kozar
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10 January 2013
Carl Hétu

Snowstruck Bethlehem is seen through one of its many moisture-speckled windows. (photo: CNEWA)

It is true: One can’t predict what will happen in the Middle East — political conflict, war, refugees, persecutions. But who would have seen this coming? A snow storm has hit the Holy Land — the first in five years. And the magic of snow had its effect on the children and adults alike who turned out to play, laugh and enjoy the moment.

Yes, schools and offices are closed. Roads are hard to access and navigate — the region isn’t equipped to handle such events. But even here, people are having simple, basic fun. What a pleasure to see!

(Click any of the photos for a full-size image.)

Children build a snowman near the Church of the Nativity. (photo: CNEWA)

This 9 January photo captures the snowfall in Manger Square. (photo: CNS/Marcin Mazur, Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)

Tags: Holy Land Bethlehem West Bank Church of Nativity
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8 January 2013
Carl Hétu

A Syrian refugee child cries at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

Carl Hétu is CNEWA’s national director in Canada.

I am currently in the Holy Land with Archbishop Richard Smith, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. We are participating in an annual visit to the Holy Land, where bishops from Europe and North America meet with the local Christian community.

On our first day, we headed up to northern Jordan, about a one-hour drive from the capital of Amman, where we were scheduled to meet with Syrian refugees living in camps.

Six months ago, there was only a handful of refugees, but today there are over 100,000 registered people there who have fled the war, the shelling, and the violence that is unbearable for families. They are living in tents with barely the minimum to survive.

The camp we were supposed to visit has about 60,000 people. But on arriving in Amman, we learned that the army had to cancel our visit.The reason? Weather. The wind and rain, along with terrible living conditions, had made life so hard in the refugee camps that the army was expecting riots. The Jordanian government and nongovernmental groups and charities like Caritas and CNEWA are doing their best to help, but resources are few, conditions tough, and people are tired, stressed and fed up. Who wouldn’t be, in similar conditions? But there are no other choices for now. Without aid, life would be much worse.

Today was a typical cold winter day, with heavy rain and strong winds. In Jordan, where water is scarce, it is considered a blessing. But for refugees living in tents, water is a curse.

I just can’t imagine how these poor people left violence to end up in a camp zone they can’t leave — where mud, wind and cold will define everyday living for weeks to come. My only comfort is knowing that, thanks to generous North American Catholics, CNEWA is providing winter kits with heaters, blankets and food.

Any help you can provide is a blessing for these refugees and gives them hope for better things to come. If you want to know more or make a donation please visit our Syrian page.

Tags: Syria CNEWA Refugees Jordan
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3 April 2012
Carl Hétu

Egyptian protesters hold up a Coptic Christian cross in one hand and a copy of the Quran in the other hand in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt.
(photo: epa european pressphoto agency b.v. / Alamy)

During Holy Week, CNEWA Canada has launched an appeal to support Egypt’s Christians who are experiencing a difficult period of transition. Their homeland is in turmoil and anti-Christian violence is on the rise. Yet, just as Christ persevered through his passion and death, they are not giving up.

Egypt’s Christians are determined to remain in the country and contribute to its renewal and resurrection. It is important that their message of peace and forgiveness is heard in the Egyptian landscape, especially during this time of unrest.

As a minority in Egypt, they are still playing an important role. CNEWA Canada invites you to be part of the efforts to strengthen the Christian community, especially their schools, seminaries and social service works, like health care clinics.

Tags: Egypt Africa Easter CNEWA Canada
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